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  • Sarah


There are plenty of alternatives to the high-polluting methods of transport such as planes, cars and cruise ships, and although they may take longer, the journey itself can become part of the adventure.

A man walking on a path through a forest.

Which is the most polluting way to travel?

Planes, cars and large cruise ships are the most polluting methods of transport available.

Planes are said to cause about 10,000 deaths a year from air pollution, and that number is only set to increase, with an estimated 50,000 planes in service by 2040 (its currently around 20,000). It is possible to 'offset' the damage done by buying carbon footprint offsets, but it would be far better to just not fly in the first place.

Cruise ships are horrendous polluters and reek huge damage everywhere they go. Just one cruise ship provider, Carnival, emitted ten times more sulphur oxide around the ports of Europe than every single car in Europe generated in the same year in 2017. While people focus on the damage caused by planes and cars, cruise ships who burn the filthiest fuel of them all, seem to get a free pass. Noxious chemicals aside, they also cause huge damage to aquatic life, generate tonnes of waste, and can cause mayhem in the cities they visit. They may move slowly, but they are the total antithesis of what slow travel represents.

Cars are well known for their polluting qualities, although some advancement is finally being made with clean fuels and electric cars. They cause direct pollution at ground level when they sit in queues with exhausts pumping out fumes over the pedestrians and cyclists just feet away, they clog up towns, cause huge swathes of countryside to be concreted over and are an eyesore littering any place of beauty.

What are alternative ways to travel?

Obviously the best way to travel with zero impact on the environment, is walking. However, this is not always practical, and doesn't help when you need to travel long distances.

Cycling is a good alternative, but in countries such as the UK which don't have very good cycle lanes, it is not always practical.

Trains are one of the best ways to get around over long distances. Most countries already have excellent train networks, and with an increase in night trains on offer, you can travel great distances while you sleep in comfort, or watching the silent world go by as you speed through the night. It saves on needing to book accommodation for a night and becomes part of the adventure itself. If you book your tickets early enough, you can travel by train very cheaply.

Coaches and buses are often the cheapest way to travel, and although the journey may be long and rather uncomfortable if you are travelling some distance, the fact that you are travelling with a lot of other people reduces the environmental impact you are inflicting on the roads.

Ferries are sometimes a good option. They may not be environmentally perfect, but the industry is starting to clean up its act, and they are still far better than flying; their emissions aren't at a high altitude, which magnifies the devastating impact on the environment.

Cars really should be the last option for people, especially if they are only carrying a single person. There are some ways round this, such as using lift sharing and car pooling services, which can give you the easy directness of a car on a journey that someone else would be doing anyway. Its not perfect, but every little helps.

See our Slow Travel Resources page for the best way to travel with minimal impact - from cross country travel to local, there are plenty of alternatives out there.


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